A day before a critical meeting in Germany to chart the next steps in the defense of Ukraine, Kyiv’s allies made it clear on Thursday that they were prepared to furnish a major infusion of military aid to help it fend off Russian aggression.
Armored vehicles, rockets and missiles, artillery rounds and air-defense systems were just part of an aid package that is expected to total billions of dollars worth of matériel when officials from as many as 50 nations have struck a final deal on Friday.
“In a war like it is being fought, every type of equipment is necessary,” Adm. Rob Bauer of the Netherlands, chairman of a top NATO military committee, said Thursday.
Even before they began to gather at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, nations appeared to be staking out positions on how best to respond to the Russian invasion of Ukraine as it nears its first anniversary.
U.S. officials said they planned to send nearly 100 Stryker combat vehicles as part of a roughly $2.5 billion shipment of arms and equipment. And after the British and Estonian defense secretaries hosted a meeting for military officials from the Baltics and Central Europe at an army base in Estonia, they, too, began to detail their plans.
Estonia said it would send its largest military aid package yet to Ukraine, including remote fire and anti-tank weapons as well as ammunition, worth a total of 113 million euros, or about $122 million. Britain reiterated its commitment to sending Challenger 2 tanks and also said it would supply 600 Brimstone missiles.
“The free world must continue to provide arms assistance to Ukraine, and do so at much greater scale and speed,” said Estonia’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas. “All countries must look into their stockpiles and ensure that industries are able to produce more and faster.”
The countries that signed a pledge of support after the meeting, including Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Slovakia, said in a joint statement that they were committed to “collectively pursuing delivery of an unprecedented set of donations” in support of Ukraine.
But the big question remained: Will Berlin in the end agree to send advanced, German-made battle tanks to Ukraine? Or at least allow other countries that now have them to do so?
The State of the War
- Helicopter Crash: A helicopter crashed in a fireball in a Kyiv suburb, killing a member of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s cabinet and more than a dozen other people, and dealing a blow to Ukraine’s wartime leadership.
- Western Military Aid: Kyiv is redoubling its pleas to allies for more advanced weapons ahead of an expected new Russian offensive. The Netherlands said that it was considering sending a Patriot missile system, and the Biden administration is warming to the idea of providing the weapons that Ukraine needs to target the Crimean Peninsula.
- Dnipro: A Russian strike on an apartment complex in the central Ukrainian city was one of the deadliest for civilians away from the front line since the war began. The attack prompted renewed calls for Moscow to be charged with war crimes.
Ukraine and some of its allies have been putting pressure on Germany to supply or authorize the export of the advanced Leopard 2 tanks, but there have been conflicting reports about what Berlin might do.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz has made it clear that Germany, still emerging from it post-World War II aversion to a strong military, will not “go it alone.” That means that when it comes to the Leopards, German officials said this week, Berlin will not send any from its own stock unless the United States sends its M1 Abrams tanks as well — a step Washington appears highly reluctant to take.
A Pentagon spokeswoman, Sabrina Singh, said Thursday that “it just doesn’t make sense” to provide Ukraine with Abrams tanks “at this moment” because they use jet fuel and are difficult to maintain. She said the Germans would have to make up their own minds about the Leopard 2s.
“Ultimately this is Germany’s decision,” Ms. Singh said.
Some officials think that in the end, Germany is likely to allow other countries that have bought Leopards to send them to Ukraine.
On the eve of the meeting at Ramstein, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine made a plea for more weapons but said their acquisition of was outside his control.
“We exert political pressure as best we can, but the most important thing is that we exert reasoned pressure,” Mr. Zelensky said at a news conference in Kyiv, according to the Ukrinform news agency. “Against thousands of tanks available to the Russian Federation, the courage of our military and motivation of the Ukrainian people are not enough.”
William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, traveled to Kyiv last week for secret consultations with Mr. Zelensky, according to a U.S. official. Since just before the invasion, Mr. Burns has made periodic visits to Ukraine to meet with intelligence officials and to convey information to Mr. Zelensky.
Western officials, worried that Ukraine may have only a narrow window before anticipated springtime offensives begin, have been working to speed the delivery of heavy, sophisticated weapons to Kyiv.
“The Russians are really digging in,” Colin H. Kahl, the U.S. under secretary of defense for policy, told reporters this week. “They’re digging trenches. They’re putting in these dragon’s teeth, laying mines.”
Ukraine, he said, needs more mechanized infantry and armored personnel carriers to punch through heavily fortified Russian defenses.
“To enable the Ukrainians to break through given Russian defenses,” Mr. Kahl said, “the emphasis has been shifted to enabling them to combine fire and maneuver in a way that will prove to be more effective.”
After the NATO meeting in Brussels, Admiral Bauer of the Netherlands and the supreme allied commander in Europe, Gen. Christopher G. Cavoli of the United States, said that quality tanks were important for Ukraine as part of what they called “a balance of all systems.”
“There is not a particular weapon system that is a silver bullet,” General Cavoli said. “In the end, attack simply comes down to a balance between firepower, mobility and protection.”
In addition to the Strykers, a medium-weight, eight-wheeled armored vehicle that can carry troops and weapons, the package the United States plans to announce will include more Bradley fighting vehicles, ammunition for HIMARS rocket artillery, 155-millimeter and 105-millimeter artillery rounds, other vehicles and air defense systems, a U.S. official said Thursday.
Officials said the Bradleys would be especially helpful to Ukrainian units fighting Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.
On Thursday, in one eastern village, Klishchiivka, conflicting reports emerged about which side was in control.
The head of a private Russian military outfit, Wagner, had claimed that the group’s fighters captured Klishchiivka, a Ukrainian stronghold southwest of the key city of Bakhmut. But the Ukrainian Army said early on Thursday that it had repelled Russian attacks against Klishchiivka during the previous 24 hours.
Bakhmut has been a focal point of Russian attacks over recent months as Russia continues its push to capture all of the Donbas area of eastern Ukraine. The city has also become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance.
Ukrainian forces had deemed Klishchiivka key to the defense of Bakhmut because it lies on high ground directly east of roads into the city that are heavily used by the Ukrainian military.
“The Russians are pushing everywhere,” said one soldier fighting for Ukraine and stationed in Bakhmut, who asked to be identified by his military call sign, Mongo.
Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting.